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From War to Prison: Examining the Relationship Between Military Service and Criminal Activity

NCJ Number
Justice Quarterly Volume: 30 Issue: 4 Dated: August 2013 Pages: 651-680
Richard Culp; Tasha J. Youstin; Kristin Englander; James Lynch
Date Published
August 2013
30 pages
In February of 2008 the New York Times ran a seriesWar Tornon Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans and their adjustment to civilian life upon return from the war zone. The authors assessed the criminal involvement of veterans by using newspaper accounts and other open source data to identify homicides in which the offender was an Afghanistan or Iraq war veteran.
This particular aspect of the series drew a great deal of criticism, in part because of disagreements about the wisdom of the wars, but also because the sources of data used were perceived as less than systematic and accurate. This series and the debate that it engendered raised once again to prominence the issue of whether veterans are disproportionately involved in crime upon their return from service and specifically from combat assignments. The series also raised the question of whether media accounts of violent behavior by returning combat veterans are simply anecdotal or if they portend a more system-wide problem. This paper uses data from the Surveys of Inmates of State and Federal Correctional Facilities and the Current Population Surveys from 1985 to 2004 to estimate more systematically the prevalence and nature of the offending by military veterans in civilian society. The study seeks to avoid some of the methodological weaknesses of earlier studies that examined the criminal behavior of returning veterans. Specifically, the research considers whether criminal behavior, as reflected in the likelihood of imprisonment, is affected by military service, era of service, or service during wartime after controlling for social and demographic characteristics associated with offending. The findings indicate that military service in general is not predictive of incarceration when key demographic and social integration variables are taken into account. Service during wartime was found to be inversely related to subsequent incarceration, while veterans of the post-1973 All Volunteer Force were more likely to be incarcerated than were civilians and veterans who served during the draft era. Abstract published by arrangement with Taylor and Francis.